Fiction Fragments: Todd Sullivan

Last week, I had the pleasure of chatting with Jessica McHugh about YA fiction and how horror and humor come together in her stories. This week, Girl Meets Monster welcomes Todd Sullivan.

image0 (2)Todd Sullivan teaches English as a Second Language, and English Literature & Writing in Asia. He has had numerous short stories, novelettes, and novellas published across several countries, including Thailand, the U.K., Australia, the U.S., and Canada. He is a practitioner of the sword-fighting martial arts, kumdo/kendo, and has trained in fencing (foil), Muay Thai, Capoeira, Wing Chun, and JKD. He graduated from Queens College with a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing, and received a Bachelor of Arts in English from Georgia State University. He attended the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and the National Book Foundation Summer Writing Camps. He currently lives in Taipei, Taiwan, and looks forward to studying Mandarin.

Three Questions

GMM: Hi Todd, welcome to Girl Meets Monster. After reading your fragment, I wondered what inspired the story, as well as what specific genre it fits into. There are young characters, so I thought YA and since there’s magic, I placed it in fantasy. Do you normally write YA fantasy, or do you write within other genres and subgenres?

TS: I wrote this story while teaching at a Language School in Seoul. One of the students was fond of drawing, and he was also a poor student academically. He was under a lot of pressure to do better in his classes, and soon he was going to take entrance exams for a boarding school in China.

This real-life scenario became the genesis of Test Amongst the Shadows, wherein a teenager, who happens to be a mage in the world of humans, has to pass an exam that is important to him. The narrative follows the different methods he employs to cheat since he knows he cannot pass the test on his own.

Test Amongst the Shadows is YA urban fantasy fiction, and eventually I’ll develop the idea into a novella series.

I also write across genres, including horror and light science fiction.

GMM: The interaction between your characters also reminded me of Japanese manga and anime stories. Do you enjoy anime? How has it influenced your writing? What are some of your favorite anime series or characters?

TS: I love anime, and it has had a significant influence on my writing. I remember the first time I saw Akira, which is the first major Japanese anime film many people around my age saw. This was in the 90s before the popularity of the internet when it was hard to find anime on American television.

One of the big differences between anime narratives and western narratives is that there are usually no purely evil characters. Westerners base a lot of their worldview on scripture: Heaven and Hell, good and evil. There is God, and there is Satan. There is a hero, and there is a villain.

Anime characters tend to be more flux in their alignment. Usually, the characters simply have objectives. Sometimes this objective brings great harm to one, or many, and that person will be the bad guy. The character with an objective that happens to include stopping the great harm to the one, or many, will be the good guy.

In Akira, there is no villain. There is a teen boy full of angst who accidentally achieves great power he cannot control. And there is his friend who must stop him, in a way out of friendship, out of knowing that the boy is in torment even as his power wrecks havoc upon the city.

In Dragon Ball Z, one of my favorite animes, Vegeta starts off as a central villain to Earth. He does so because he wants to escape the tyranny of one of DBZs purely evil characters, Frieza, and on Earth he thinks the means to do exists. Vegeta changes throughout the series, going from villain to anti-hero to hero.

Then there is Goku, a character whose goal of protecting the Earth conflicts with his overwhelming desire to improve his fighting abilities. This obsession Goku has indirectly causes great harm and misery to others.

The characters I write are similar to these Japanese figures. With few exceptions, my characters are not purely good, and they are not purely evil. Sometimes one of them will have a goal that brings suffering to others; and sometimes, another of them will have a goal that brings them into direct conflict with the first, and thus the suffering of others can be alleviated.

GMM: How long have you lived in Asia, and what aside from teaching English and Writing made you decide to move there? What cultural barriers have you experienced as a person of color living abroad? How have these experiences shaped your writing?

TS: I’ve lived in Asia ten years. After a three-week winter semester class where I studied Japanese authors in Tokyo during my MFA at Queens College, I knew that I wanted to come back to this part of the world and learn more about the people and the cultures.

Many Asian societies are homogeneous, so the presence of foreigners acts as a bit of a shock to their system. I think that being a foreigner in a homogeneous society is a good case study of how humans might react to the presence of aliens from outer space. There is simply a difficulty in processing the reality of that which is standing in front of you.

Writing-wise, I think this difficulty is best expressed in my fantasy novella series, The Windshine Chronicles. This series centers around a dark-skinned foreigner living in a fantasy version of Korea called South Hanguk. The series’ narrative is multilayered, but one of the themes is how the people of the country interact with foreigners, and how the foreigners struggle to exist in a country that isn’t their native home.

In The Windshine Chornicles, the idea that the human race is “one whole” is constantly put to the test.

From Test Amongst the Shadows, by Todd Sullivan

The hardest working mage who ever lived glanced at the clock on the wall. Twenty minutes. Jin gazed down at his English exam. Only twenty minutes left to pass or fail the biggest test of his life. His scantron sheet was half empty. The clock’s ticking seconds in the silent classroom echoed in his mind, and made focusing on English vocabulary and grammar impossible. He had to do something if he intended to get in the top of his class.

Jin looked around at the other students, their heads low, their shoulders hunched as they picked off ovals in the long marching columns. Adjusting his glasses, he opened his senses in search for the right spell amidst the thin cracks that splinter reality. He released control of his hand and let it draw six stick-figure bandits on horses at the edges of the exam. Leaning close to the page, he whispered, “Thieving shadows, take shape and learn the secrets of my woes.”

The drawings shivered, and the bandits shook themselves awake. They clawed out of the exam, erupting off the page into the third dimension. The cloaked leader saluted, his face hidden in shades of gray. Jin pointed to the answer key tucked under a notebook on the teacher’s desk. The leader nodded, and motioned to the silent troupe behind him. The bandits yanked on their horses’ reins and leapt off the side of the table. Racing across the tiled floor, the horses skirted around chair legs and hopped over sneakers. Jin glanced at the exam answer key again. The sides of his mouth spread in a triumphant smile, but a purple boot suddenly crushed the horsemen right before they cleared the classroom’s tables. Jin inhaled in surprised. He followed the boot up to the leg, the skirt, the shirt, to finally meet the steady gaze of Sori, the top student in the school.

And his ex-girlfriend.

The two maintained eye contact for several moments, a silent challenge passing between them. Sori had broken up with him right before exams, informing him that she wasted too much time with him and wasn’t focusing enough on the upcoming finals. And now, here she sat, the only other mage in this room of humans, stopping him from reaching his goal.

So that’s how it was going to be.

Jin slowly took off his glasses in preparation for his next spell. Sori had managed to see his bandits. He didn’t know how, but he would need to take care of her sight before he tried for the test answers again.

Jin narrowed his eyes at the light reflected in the lenses of his glasses. He smiled. He held the glasses to his lips and misted the lenses by blowing on one, then the other. While he did this, he focused on the magic vibrating between the fissures of reality until he heard the words to the next spell.

“Site sighted, two to see, sea bog fog billowing…”

“John?”

Jin snapped his mouth shut at the teacher speaking his English name. He tried to still his heart now thumping fast in his chest, and met the teacher’s puzzled blue eyes.

“Are you speaking to someone?”

Now the other students’ heads lifted, and before he knew it, dozens of humans were all staring in his direction. With their attention focused on him, he couldn’t produce magic. No mage could. Human disbelief in magic narrowed the fissures running throughout reality, making the words necessary to bring spells to life impossible to hear. Jin had been told that no mage had been able to perform magic in front of a human in hundreds of years.

He glanced at Sori, who was smiling at him as he sweated under the spotlight of mankind. With a weak shrug, Jin said, “I was just,” and he paused as he scrambled for a good excuse, “reading a problem out loud to myself.” He tapped the exam. “Sometimes that helps.”

The English teacher nodded. “Everyone must remain silent so that the other students can concentrate. Sorry, John.”

“Won’t happen again,” Jin assured him. He caught Sori’s smug wink, and tore his eyes away from his ex-girlfriend’s pretty face.

These exams determined who would be allowed to apply for the International School in Hong Kong. Only the top two students would be recommended. Jin felt confident about math and science, but he worried over his English scores. One of his classmates had lived in San Francisco for years. Jin only managed to edge him out sometimes, while Sori beat them both in every subject every, single, time.

She was a studying machine.

Jin looked at the clock again. Ten minutes to finish the exam. He had to cast another spell, but when he raised his eyes, he noticed the teacher looking around the room. Whereas before he hadn’t been paying much attention, now the teacher was watching them closely, all because of Sori. Jin really wished he had been able to cast his spell and blind her. Not only because he would have been able to get the answers without her trying to counter him, but because it would have stopped her from taking the test, maybe even causing her to fail.

That would have been sweet.

Jin’s eyes narrowed as a new idea struck him. He looked at the dusty blackboard behind the teacher and slowly raised his hand.

“Yes, John?” The teacher said. “Is something wrong?”

“Can I ask you a question?” Jin assumed his most perplexed look, and mixed in a little pained exasperation to make himself seem even more pathetic.

The teacher sighed and waved him forward. Jin stood. Only briefly, a couple of students glanced up at the newest disturbance, but their focus quickly returned to their exams. All, that is, except Sori, who watched Jin with a penetrating gaze. He wanted to give her the finger, but since the teacher was staring at him, he refrained as he passed her…

Do you have a fiction fragment? How about your friends? Would you like to recommend someone to me aside from yourself? Drop me a line at chellane@gmail.com. See you next week!

Guidelines: Submit 500-1000 words of fiction, up to 5 poems, a short bio, and a recent author photo to the e-mail above.

Fiction Fragments: Errick Nunnally

Last week I chatted with EV Knight about cats and her debut novel, The Fourth Whore. This week, Girl Meets Monster welcomes Errick Nunnally. I met Errick in person at Necon 39, but was first introduced to him virtually as the cover artist for my debut novel, Invisible Chains. When I asked Errick to submit a fragment, he had this to say about his submission: “This is the second part in a series of stories I’ve been putting together about a Boston animal control officer, Nora Tuttle (mixed ethnicity), who has found herself dealing with animal…anomalies…each worse than the last. My hope is to collect them as a novella. Which is nigh impossible to sell, of course, but… I can’t overstate how much I love this character.”

ErrickNunnallyErrick Nunnally was born and raised in Boston, Massachusetts, and served one tour in the Marine Corps before deciding art school was a safer pursuit. He enjoys art, comics, and genre novels. A designer by day, he earned a black belt in Krav Maga and Muay Thai kickboxing by night. His writing has appeared in several anthologies and is best described as “dark pulp.” His work can be found in Lamplight, Transcendent, Monarchies of Mau: Tales of Excellent Cats, The Final Summons, Protectors 2, Nightlight Podcast, and the novel, Lightning Wears a Red Cape. See more of his work online at erricknunnally.us

Three Questions

GMM: Welcome, Errick. I just finished reading Blood for the Sun, and I loved it. I love vampires and werewolves equally, but I always seem to root for the werewolves when they go to war. What made you decide to cast vampires as the villains in the novel? What was the inspiration for your wonderfully complex protagonist, Alexander Smith?

EN: Hello, and thank you for having me. I’m so glad you enjoyed the novel!

As for inspiration, I love monsters more than the other aspects of horror and I always rooted for the werewolves in movies–especially when they were subbed to vampires. Because they’re relegated to wild animal status, it wasn’t often, in popular movies and TV, that you got to see someone in control of themselves. The closest that I recall is the television series, Werewolf, where the main character had a modicum of control when transformed, but that control was eroding over time. I got a kick out of the Werewolf By Night comics and really liked the idea that Jack Russel finally makes peace with his beast, taking more control and revitalizing the series for a while. That is basically what drove my initial decision and fundamentally reimagining where these abilities come from–which is part of the trilogy’s overall arc. Smith himself was a long time in development, from that point. It all started in college, around ’95 or ’96. I painted a three-page comic of this loose idea that was jangling around in my head: a werewolf living on a frontier whose neighbors–Chinese immigrants–are murdered and their child stolen. He tears off after the culprit, recognizing that a wild vampire has taken the child. He saves the baby, but not before she’s bitten. He knows he should get rid of her, but he keeps her, instead, initially raising her out of guilt for crimes he’s already committed. And that’s basically the origin story of his adopted daughter, Ana. I loved the idea of Alexander growing up pre-industrial and Ana growing up post-industrial. It makes their personalities decidedly different. Over the years, I had other ideas for both his backstory and personality: he’s half-and-half African-American and First Nation. His dad escaped slavery in Louisiana, up the Mississippi River and married a Kainai woman, before settling in Saskatchewan and becoming a coal miner. Alexander is one of three kids, raised on a homestead. His sisters are married back into the tribe. His father dies of black lung, his mother dies of old age. The shapeshifter aspect is handed down bloodlines and Alexander is infected by a great-great grandfather. After a century or more the aspect starts eating memories, producing wild monsters that feed into myths. That memory stuff came from watching my grandmothers’ memories deteriorate and how disorienting and horrifying it was. Alexander’s skills were added with the idea that constant learning helps our brains stay sharp. The idea for sorting out missing children’s cases as a challenging puzzle as well as a parallel to his daughter’s existence. He fears the madness and roams from his homelands to avoid handing the lycanthropy down to someone else. I’ve always liked the irredeemable character, so I put things in Alexander’s past that he’ll never overcome. So much of his character stems from my counter-stance on pure heroism, popular vampires, and the unimaginable beauty associated with the supernatural in so many “urban fantasy” novels. On and on and on, over the years, until I got laid off around 2008. Being unemployed for a couple years put a lot of time in my lap and I came up with a bucket list. One of the items was to finally write that damn novel.

GMM: Judging by the fragment you submitted, Nora Tuttle is about to have her hands full. Nothing good comes out of mysterious egg sacs in my experience. You mentioned that you love this character, and that she is of mixed ethnicity. How important is it to you to write about characters who are people of color? Why are their stories important?

EN: That fragment is from a story I finished recently. It’s the second time I’ve used Tuttle. She debuted in a story about dog fighting and genetic tampering that I wrote shortly after Blood for the Sun was published. She is mixed and that experience comes with its unique problems here in America. I’m not the sort that writes about “race” in particular, but it factors in because that’s the lived experience I have among the people I grew up with. It’s important to me because as I grew up, I didn’t see much of myself, the people, or the world I knew reflected in fiction. And I love science fiction! Non-white adults of my vintage will recall the lack of reflection when it came to stories about the future, as if entire swaths of humanity wouldn’t make it, that “white” folks would live forever. It was frustrating. Even more, in hindsight, as I’ve gotten older and seen so much more successful representation in media. Nora Tuttle, in particular, came into existence because I didn’t want to write a male protagonist and I wanted someone who would have some relationship with law enforcement, but wasn’t a cop themselves. The better to entangle them in danger without the offensive capabilities or resources to deal with it. Enter an officer for Boston Animal Control! Add monstrous elements and I had someone in way over their head. I think it’s very, very important to write protagonists who are as fully-formed as possible. Because of my experiences and background, that’s always going to include various POC. Tuttle has all sorts of background that I mine in the second story, further complicating her life. Because I love her, she will be in a third and final story before I step away from, uh, complicating her life.

GMM: I haven’t had a chance to read your latest novel, Lightning Wears a Red Cape, but it is on my list of books to read in 2020. What are you working on right now? Do you have any projects coming out in the next year?

EN: Blood for the Sun is currently out-of-print, but a newer, re-edited version will be back in circulation this summer, from Haverhill House Publishing! Two sequels will follow shortly afterward. The second, All The Dead Men, is already written! I can’t wait to start reveals of the covers et al. I’m also working on a few short stories–one of which has a home if I can get it done right–and two novellas that I’d like to release into the wild. There are two novels in the pipe that I need to get crackin’ on. One is a thriller–no speculative elements–about an Afghani translator and the father of a fallen Marine that he has befriended. The translator has to go on the run with evidence of a conspiracy to escalate conflict in the region. Both he and the father are pursued by bad actors, of course. There’ll be international action, mercenaries, political intrigue, all the good/bad thriller stuff. Everyone I’ve explained the full premise and story to is intrigued by the idea and I think it’ll be a good challenge for me to write. The second novel’s content is TBD, but a couple of good friends are pushing for a slippery, magical idea that builds off of my life when I was much younger. We’ll just have to wait and see about that one, at this point!

The Keeper of Taswomet, by Errick A. Nunnally

The slow whine of a cicada cut through the warm air and mixed with the other chirps and clicks of insects. A light breeze came in from across the marsh, tickling the tall dry grass. The dense green could barely be seen through a narrow corridor in the trees surrounding the last home on the lane.

Joshua shot out of the back of his house, cutting across the lawn and into the trees before the screen door banged shut. He wore the summer-ready haircut of most twelve-year old boys: buzzed short on the sides, his brown hair lightened by the sun. The day was especially warm, so he wore his favorite, tank top: light blue with Mjölnir on the front. Partway down his skinny biceps, the skin went from its usual fish-belly pale to cinnamon-toasted, exposing what his mother referred to as a ‘farmer’s tan.’ The youngster was an anachronism, belonging instead to the days when scores of children roamed through nature, picking it apart, living in it and on it. These days, most of his friends were more interested in music or the latest dramas of the latest pop stars.

He rushed to check on the well-hidden, briny pool he’d found just before lunch, a gift born of the marsh that defined so much of his life. Joshua was fortunate, he enjoyed the area to a degree that other kids did not. Taswomet Marsh made summers the best time of year and it made school bearable. The natural wonder’s proximity bent the science program to its will. And Joshua loved it.

A trip to the hardware store and chores with his father had kept him from exploring the discovery further, earlier in the day, but the precious gift of extra daylight during the summer meant he had some time after dinner.

He wound through the oak and pine wood, rooted in a sandy surface, cutting through to the well-worn path that meandered along the greater portion of the marsh. Insect cries intensified in constant whirrs and clicks. He imagined the long shadows were the devastating ice clubs of frost giants and Joshua danced around them. He slowed when he reached the next path, exposed to the setting sun on.

Bright light and heat slammed his face and arms as he eased the pace, picking his way along the narrow path that cut through low brush too thick to pass otherwise. He’d promised to get back before sunset, so he didn’t dally when a plover snapped out of the tall grass, capturing his attention. It beat quickly into the sky, then broke into the tree line before he could determine whether it was a western or a white-rumped.

The backpack he wore added a layer of unneeded warmth to the small of his back. It contained his notebook, sample bags, a small shovel, and other knick-knacks for research and sample collection. He shrugged the bag off and carried it by the handle. Just ahead, there was a less worn path cutting towards the marsh proper. Softer soil gave beneath his feet as he wound his way through the flora to the pool, pushing tall grasses and thick underbrush aside. The stink of mosquito repellent stung his nose. It was necessary to wear in the marsh, but he always felt like his mom laid it on too thick. Still, he was fortunate to be part of a new generation allowed to roam, to drift away and explore only to return when hunger saw fit to remind him. As long as it happened before dark.

He crouched down at the edge of the hidden pool and peered into the dark water. Just below the surface, he could make out eight gelatinous sacks about the size of raviolis and trending in color from brown to translucent to gray. He couldn’t tell if there were more of them deeper in the water, but it didn’t matter. He only wanted one for his project. Being careful not to fall in, and using a heavy-duty zip-locking bag, he scooped up one of the sacs and as much of the brackish water as he could. He only wanted a sample, something to study. Of all the species he knew that reproduced in this manner—he presumed they were egg sacs—this one escaped him. It looked like the egg case of a catshark, but square and smaller. The marsh was a cornucopia of ecology accentuated by the sea.

Joshua held the bag up to the sunlight and peered through the odd mass. Inside the sac, a tiny creature lay curled into a tight ball. It twitched in the glare. Overhead, two Osprey observed the marsh in widening circles. Joshua was anxious to get his find settled into the glass habitat he’d constructed in his room. He’d dubbed the thing a “terraquarium” since it approximated, as best he could manage, the mixed environment of the marsh. He was going to have the best summer project on display when school started again.

Thoughts of the future danced in his mind as he hurried home, the kind of open-ended musings only a 12-year old could think of; a future of discovery and fortune.

Do you have a fragment that should probably see the light of day? Send it my way at chellane@gmail.com. See you next week!

Fiction Fragments: J. L. Gribble

Last week, Girl Meets Monster talked to Jessica Barlow about LGBT superheroes, and this week I welcome speculative fiction author J. L. Gribble to talk about cats and time machines.

Gribble photo colorBy day, J. L. Gribble is a professional medical editor. By night, she does freelance fiction editing in all genres, along with reading, playing video games, and occasionally even writing. Her current work focuses on the urban fantasy/alternate history Steel Empires series, in which her debut novel, STEEL VICTORY, was her thesis novel for Seton Hill University’s Writing Popular Fiction graduate program in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. Previously, she was one of the co-editors for FAR WORLDS, a speculative fiction anthology. She lives in Ellicott City, Maryland, with her husband and three vocal Siamese cats. Find her online (www.jlgribble.com), on Facebook (www.facebook.com/jlgribblewriter), and on Twitter and Instagram (@hannaedits). When not blogging for SpeculativeChic.com, she is currently working on more tales set in the world of Limani.

Three Questions

Girl Meets Monster: What inspires your work, and more specifically, what was the inspiration for your fragment?

JLG: For the past five years, and for at least two more into the foreseeable future, my writing life has revolved around my urban fantasy/alternate history series. Even while doing short writing exercises or attending writing workshops, all drabbles tend to involve that series, whether it’s the characters, the world, plot ideas, etc.

But sometimes that is literally impossible. Such as when your publisher hosts a writing retreat and horror author and writing professor Michael Arnzen is put in charge of the writing exercises…

Girl Meets Monster: That’s one hell of a start, why did you abandon this writing project?

JLG: It’s ridiculous. It’s overwrought. It has too much description and not enough plot. But it’s also a time machine/cat, so I’m not inclined to quibble.

Girl Meets Monster: Time machines seem like a natural theme/plot device for speculative fiction, but why cats? Why a cat that is a time machine?

JLG: Easy. During the time of this writing exercise, I was working on a time travel plot in the current Steel Empires novel. Pretty much EVERYTHING was a time machine at that point. Also, I was out of town and missed my cats.

Fiction Fragment, by J. L. Gribble

She fled up the gangway, snatching frantically at the handrails as it snapped and whipped in the frenzied storm. It screamed closed behind her, tumbling her to the deck. As the ship rumbled around her, she spit hair out of her mouth and crawled into the elevator. The small space curled around her, claustrophobic and comforting as it carried her into the bowels of the ship. Once she crashed into the engine room, the rumble smoothed as the diesel engines roared to life, marching the caking scent of ammonia to the back of her throat and causing her to retch and gag. Dueling alarms howled to life around her, shrieking through the ship on every wavelength. Horrible whiskers stretched from the engine room walls and then the protective barrier collapsed as the ship inverted in time and carried her into uncertainty.
SteelVictoryARC_cov.inddFor significantly fewer cats, but nearly as much ridiculousness, check out J.L. Gribble’s Steel Empires series, beginning with Steel Victory.

Next week, Lana Ayers will join Girl Meets Monster to talk about her new novel, Time Flash: Another Me, and share a fiction fragment. See you next week!

The Magic of Doggy Style

If you haven’t read the Jane True Urban Fantasy series, you should. I picked up a used copy of Tempest Rising (2009) at a thrift store back in September and read it cover to cover in two days. I have an MFA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University, and I’ve made a point of reading at least one work of fiction by the faculty who teach and mentor in the program. I finally got around to reading Nicole Peeler’s series about Jane True, a twenty-something small town girl who is essentially treated like an outcast due to the fact that she has a dark past. Most of the people in her small town of Rockabill, Maine aren’t very nice to Jane, because they believe that she’s nuts and responsible for the death of her best friend and lover, Jason. Jane blames herself, too. Working at a bookstore and caring for her sick father, who is still pining after his wife who left him when Jane was still very young, Jane doesn’t have much of a social life. Her favorite pastime is swimming in a hidden cove despite the strong currents that seem to recharge her and make her happy. Jane’s mundane life quickly gets turned upside down when she becomes aware of a large magical community after accidentally discovering a dead body. Jane gets pulled into this magical world and learns that she is actually a part of it, and her mother was a magical creature who came from the sea.

Rising

In the first two novels, Jane is romantically entangled with a vampire-like creature, a Ryu Baobhan Sith, but she soon realizes that while Ryu is super sexy and a great lover, his idea of love and hers don’t mesh. He cares about her, but he’s invested in the relationship for somewhat selfish reasons. As a half human half Selkie, she will live a much longer life, and her blood is more satisfying than human blood. He tries to persuade her into leaving her friends and family in Rockabill to live with him in Boston, and she realizes that she doesn’t love him enough to do that.

But, I’m not here to talk about Ryu regardless of how sexy he might be. I’m here to talk about a much sexier magical dude and shapeshifting hottie, Anyan Barghest.

The Magic of Doggie Style: Anyan Barghest

Barghest

First and foremost, if you don’t know what a barghest is, don’t feel silly. I had to look it up too. But, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica online, a barghest comes to us from Northern English folklore, particularly from Yorkshire, and is “a monstrous, goblin dog, with huge teeth and claws, that appears only at night.” If you saw one, you were doomed to die soon, but if you only caught a glimpse, you’d live on for a few months.

Anyan Barghest is a shapeshifter who spends most of his time in dog form in the first novel. In fact, Jane doesn’t know he can turn into a man until much later in the story and is shocked given the fact that he makes a habit of sleeping next to her and hanging around when she’s naked or changing her clothes before or after a swim. Of course, once she sees what he looks like in his human form she’s embarrassed, but able to forgive him due to the fact that he’s not only smoking hot, but he also makes a regular habit of saving her life and is an excellent mentor.

Anyan and Ryu have history, they are rivals and butt heads a lot when it comes to the best way to go about doing things. Ryu is all about protocol and becoming romantically involved with women during investigations. Anyan disapproves of Ryu’s relationship with Jane, because the Baobhan Sith has a reputation for using women for sex and blood. Which, he’s technically doing with Jane.

Team-Anyan

When Jane nearly dies at the hands of some magical bad guys, Anyan rescues Jane in human form while completely naked, which makes Jane’s libido sit up and notice. He’s a big man, physically fit, strong but on the slender side, with lots of dark messy coarse hair, and a long nose that twitches a lot like a dog catching a scent. The Barghest is a powerful magical being, he’s an amazing leader, and he cares more about people than politics. He’s kind of a legend in the magical world Jane finds herself in, and most people either respect, fear, or hate him. But, as the books go on, we learn that Anyan has many friends in the magical community and people love him. Including Jane, who wrestles with her feelings for him.

Why does she wrestle with her feelings? Well, a lot is happening in Jane’s life. She had a major fling with Ryu, the  called it quits when he gave her an ultimatum about living with him. She knows she can’t have a relationship with him, but misses him. She’s trying to learn more and strengthen her magic. There are several magical bad guys who want to see her dead. She learns the truth about her mom and why she left when Jane was young. Anyan is much older than Jane due to his magical status, and he’s also older in terms of his experience. He’s a mentor and friend, and even though he makes her heart beat faster, she has a lot of self doubt where the Barghest is concerned.

With each book, Jane gets a little stronger and she spends more and more time with Anyan. He saves her, she saves him. He teaches her to strengthen her magical defenses. She fantasizes about all the things she’d like to do with him naked. She discovers that his human alter ego is a famous artist and sculptor. In fact, she’s fond of his work, including the metal headboard he designed for his bed that has an intricate design of lovers in different poses from the Kamasutra. Could this guy be any hotter?

Kamasutra

Yes, yes he can. He also rides a motorcycle, has a restaurant quality kitchen, smells of cardamom, and when he finally kisses Jane, he establishes his dominance by pulling her hair. Sweet baby Jesus! But you know what’s hotter than that? Nicole Peeler’s ability to extend the feeling of denied release for roughly four books. That’s right, Anyan and Jane have the hots for each other or at least the sparks of the hots by the end of the second book (if memory serves me correctly), and they experience coitius interruptus over and over and over and over until I was literally shouting, “Oh my god, just fuck him already!”

They get interrupted so often, that it actually gives Jane time to figure out what she wants from their relationship. She doesn’t want to make the same mistakes she made with Ryu. Even though Anyan wants her as badly as she wants him, he agrees to put off having sex for a bit longer so that he can really practice the art of seducing her. Which, if you ask me, the time leading up to two people getting it on is often hotter than the first time they finally do the nasty.

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At any rate, I’m at the beginning of book 5, Tempest’s Fury (2012), and Anyan has just promised to make Jane beg him to have sex by the time he’s done seducing her. But not in a douchebag way like if Ryu said it. So, at this point, they still haven’t consummated their relationship, whatever it might be. So, at the end of book 4, Eye of the Tempest (2011), when they were just about to get it on, I mean he literally had the tip in, I was super excited.

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But once again, they were interrupted and I was like, “Are you fucking kidding me?” LITERALLY the tip. And then, nada. I would have given anything to see the look of frustration on Anyan’s face right at that moment.

But now, I’m looking forward to Anyan’s efforts to seduce Jane, because he had my attention the first time he showed up naked to save her. I mean, if he hasn’t broken out his A-game yet, my loins are seriously in danger of bursting into flames.

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So yeah, while I’m typically into hot, sensual vampires like Ryu, I’m totally Team Anyan.

Love, Sex and Beautiful Death

I read a lot of Paranormal Romance…or Urban Fantasy…or Vampire Romance…or Vampire Erotica… or essentially, any fiction that features vampires and other supernatural creatures engaged in sexual relationships that are complicated by the threat of violence from external or internal forces. Conflict, sex, and the threat of death makes for interesting fiction. Well, as long as the characters aren’t too annoying. As is the case with a lot of contemporary popular fiction featuring vampires, werewolves, witches, and other dark characters, eventually someone is going to get laid. At least, if I’m reading the book they had better get laid or I’m going to quickly lose interest. The exception to this would be a series that features characters who are constantly building toward a promised release. They don’t have sex right away, but man when they do, and you know they will, it is going to be HOT.

Jean-Claude, Vampire Master of the City of St. Louis

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In the first few novels in Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter Series, that is exactly what we get as readers. The tantalizing promise of sex, without release. Anita has taken a personal vow of celibacy and is waiting to meet Mr. Right before she has sex with anyone. She goes on dates, but never seems to like or trust anyone enough to make them a permanent fixture in her life. To be fair, her life is complicated. She raises zombies for a living and is also a licensed vampire hunter. She works with the police to solve paranormal crimes and she hunts monsters. Initially, even though she has the ability to raise the dead, she considers herself human and anyone with fangs or who occasionally turns furry, she considers a monster. Simple right?

Well, as is the case with most things in life, nothing is ever that cut and dry. In Hamilton’s first novel, Guilty Pleasures, we meet a vampire who could give Anne Rice’s vampires a run for their money. Jean-Claude is a master vampire, but he serves under a more powerful vampire who is the Master of the City of St. Louis. Jean-Claude was born in France, he is tall, slim, but muscular and has a feminine appearance due to his long black curls and angelic pale face. While he is a bit androgynous, Anita makes it clear that you would never mistake him for anything other than male. His preference for black and white clothing in fabrics like silk, velvet, lace and leather tend to the more dramatic and are reminiscent of 17th century fashions, including black leather boots that reach his thighs and shirts with frilly lace collars and cuffs. Jean-Claude’s most noticeable attributes are his beauty, his charm, his biting wit, his seductive voice that enables him to enthrall humans, a laugh that caresses your skin and puts naughty ideas into your head, and an uncanny knack for diplomacy and leadership. His maker, Belle Morte, that’s right, the beautiful death, is a very powerful vampire and has the power to control humans, lycanthropes, and vampires with her sexuality, and each vampire in her bloodline has some skill associated with love and sex. Her power is like a drug and many have become addicted to her power, which is called the ardeur.

Like Gallowglass de Clermont, there is no actor to reference, because there has been no TV or film adaptation of the novels at this point. But, there is a comic book series based on the books and lots of fan art floating around out there to give you a sense of Jean-Claude’s good looks. And, like me people have their own opinions about who should be cast as extremely sensual vampire.

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Anita’s skill set allows her to sense the relative age of most vampires, something she does through feeling the amount of power they have. She can usually guess the age of a vampire within a hundred years give or take. However, she underestimates Jean-Claude’s age by roughly 200 years when they first meet. Although she has made a career of hunting vampires, she has not been privy to their secrets because she does not have access to their world beyond hunting and killing them. Her knowledge is limited to literal textbooks and what she has been able to observe in the field.

As she gets to know Jean-Claude and the other vampires in the kiss (a group or clan of vampires) he belongs to, Anita starts to realize she knows a lot less about vampires than she thought. Jean-Claude seems to be hellbent on getting into Anita’s panties in the first novel and is puzzled, but excited by the challenge when he realizes that she isn’t driven by her libido. He claims that it has been centuries since anyone has turned down his offer for sex. Given that his super vamp powers stem from his ability to seduce people with his voice and touch, and he is apparently well-versed in the art of giving pleasure, he relies on his powers of persuasion from the neck up to convince Anita that she can trust him. She continually refuses his invitations to dinner even after he saves her life.

But…he saves her life by binding her to him through the use of vampire magic. So, he saves and enslaves her at the same time. And, in turn, because of their close connection she ends up saving him and kills the vampire who stands in the way of him obtaining more power. In fact, she keeps saving until she realizes she’s doing because she has feelings for him. They are friends and allies, and the more she gets to know him the more she realizes her feelings for him are of a sexual nature. Well, no shit, Sherlock. I mean aside from the fact that his accent alone is enough to peel panties, his vampire powers are based in seduction, he dresses like a model on the cover of a romance novel and has a body made for sin. He has a black belt in flirting and the ability to make Anita believe that it’s her idea to have sex the first time they finally do. He allows her to come to him and questions her decision even though it is the one thing he wants most from her. Well, that and genuine love and affection. He’s smart, funny, powerful, handsome, could write an encyclopedia on fucking from memory, and has sincere emotional attachment to the vampires and shapeshifters he rules.

Despite some of his manipulative habits and almost serial killer level need for keeping secrets, he’s still one of the best choices for boyfriends among the many lovers Anita acquires over the course of the novels. He does trick her into to becoming his human servant. And, he threatens to kill her boyfriend, a werewolf, Richard Zeeman, if she refuses to date both of them at the same time. Up until the point when she finally gives herself to Jean-Claude body and soul, she dates both of them, has sex with neither of them, and Jean-Claude’s angle is that he believes eventually she will choose one of them. One of them will appear to be too mostrous and in that moment she will choose the other. Richard wants to marry Anita and initially she wants the same happily ever after. But, as Richard gains power within his pack, she freaks out when she seems the darker side of his werewolf self. Her rejection of him only serves to make Richard hate himself even more.

At any rate, as readers, we wait a long time for Anita to drop her guard and her panties. There are a few scenes when you think she’s going to have sex with Richard, but they either get interrupted, don’t have time, or allow fear to talk them out of it. There is a lot of kissing and touching and elevated heart rates, but we barely even get foreplay until Anita sees Richard let his beast loose and runs into the arms of Jean-Claude. She literally feels safer in the arms of a vampire. So safe, that she fucks him in the bathtub and despite her moral high horse, she does it without any admission of love for Jean-Claude. Technically, she used him for sex. She was feeling so terrible about her feelings for Richard that she ran to Jean-Claude and used him for sex. And thereby punishing Richard for being too much of a monster.

Yes, Jean-Claude is a vampire. He feeds on blood and in his case, sexual pleasure. He feeds on the sexual release of his partners like an incubus, but he can also feed off people’s arousal at a distance. Since he owns and operates a strip club featuring male lycanthropes and vampires, there’s a lot of sexual energy to go around. In fact, as Anita’s powers and needs evolve, most of her additional lovers, with the exception of Richard, Micah and Asher, come from the line-up of strippers at Guilty Pleasures: Jason, Nathaniel, Requiem, Damian, London, and Byron. I’m probably forgetting someone, but it’s kind of hard to keep track of all that man candy.

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Jean-Claude is attracted to men and women, but Anita is his only lover throughout the first fourteen novels. Anita and Jean-Claude have sex with other people in their bed, including Asher, Richard, Micah and Nathaniel, and even Jason. However, everyone is having sex with Anita. There is blood-sharing that takes place between the vampires and the male lycanthropes, but there is only hetero sex happening between Anita and all of her lovers even if more than one of them is in the bed. However, Jean-Claude and Asher were lovers in the past and they are still in love. They avoid having sex together, because Jean-Claude is worried that if Anita is uncomfortable with him having sex with men she will no longer accept him into her bed. He doesn’t even feed off other women, so he has essentially made himself celibate except for Anita when he is in fact an incubus. His willingness to play by her rules based on a very limited scope of sexuality actually weakens his power as Master of the City. There are men willing to have sex with Jean-Claude and he continually refuses even though he may be attracted to them. Asher is the least happy about this situation and continually complains about it. Asher will definitely get his own blog post this month if not this week.

Meanwhile, because of the metaphysical fuckery associated with becoming Jean-Claude’s human servant and becoming part of a triumvirate with Richard as Jean-Claude’s animal to call, Anita develops the ardeur and must have multiple lovers to feed like a succubus and even has two live-in boyfriends. That doesn’t exactly seem fair does it? Especially since Richard is still counted among her harem and he goes on dates and has sex with lots of other women. What the fuck, you might ask. Everyone else who has sex with Anita, with the exception of Jason, Richard, and Asher, remain faithful to her. So, she has these really weird relationships with everyone where she continually questions her feelings, their feelings, and pretends to be clueless about alternative sexual needs.

For example, one of her boyfriends, a wereleopard and stripper, who was also a former child prostitute and porn star, has a taste for BDSM. He’s submissive and enjoys being dominated. In fact, he enjoys feeling pain. Anita claims to love him, but can’t seem to get her head around the fact that he’d like her to dominate him more sexually. He even tells her they can start out slow and simply try binding him while they have the regular sex they would normally have, which by the way isn’t always vanilla. She’s uncomfortable with the idea, so keeps avoiding his requests. Then he suggests going to someone else for domination without sexual intercourse. Again, she doesn’t know what to say, because she’s jealous and worried about sharing him with someone else. Again, what the fuck? I’m going to stop talking about Nathaniel right there, because I’m pretty sure he’s going to come up in another blog post. Because, I’ve thought about Nathaniel a lot, and I have several solutions to alleviate the problem of him not getting what he needs from his relationship with Anita.

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There are a total of 32 books in this series. Apparently, in book 23, Dead Ice, Anita and Jean-Claude plan their wedding. I can only assume that Richard is dead at this point, because I can’t imagine him standing by to allow that to happen. He’s tried killing Jean-Claude for less. I’m on book 15 right now, The Harlequin, and I had a moment of clarity while reading a scene in which Anita and Richard are bickering over some bullshit jealousy issue, as usual, and rather than sitting back and letting them fight with each other, Jean-Claude whips out his power and makes them both come to heel.

Jean-Claude called the fight. He called it with a push of power that staggered both of us. I nearly fell, and Richard looked ashen. We both turned and looked at the vampire. HIs eyes were glittering blue pools, like the night sky was on fire.

“Enough of this.” His voice whispered through the room like and echo of bats, bouncing off the curtains.

I knew he was our master, but I’d never felt him do anything like this to us. Never felt him simply throw his power into us and stop us in our tracks. I hadn’t known he had it in him.

We watched him come toward us like small birds that wanted to fly from the snake, but couldn’t make ourselves move. (205)

There’s nothing sexual happening in that scene. But I couldn’t remember ever being as turned on by Jean-Claude in that moment as I had been during all of his sex scenes. Jean-Claude has a lot of sex scenes. Some of which are super-fucking hot. Power is sexy. Vampire power, when used strategically by the right vampire, is heart-palpitating, knee-quivering, and panty-peeling sexy.

More often than not, Jean-Claude will defer to Anita. He allows her to be in control of situations, unless he knows better or is worried that emotions will cloud her judgement. His fear of upsetting her practically castrates him, and there are many instances when he has to lie or simply omit information so that he can effectively run his businesses and manage his territory.

The scene above was one of the first times he simply told both Anita and Richard to shut up and do what he said. He reminded them that he actually is more powerful than they give him credit for, and it freaked them both out. They shut the fuck up. For a little while anyway. As powerful as Anita and Richard are, Jean-Claude is still their master.

Several vampires who sought freedom from the ardeur and Belle Morte’s cruel and perverse behaviors, have chosen to live with Jean-Claude and accepted him as their master. Jean-Claude is no joke. With each newly acquired vampire and each new acquired metaphysical power he becomes more and more powerful. But, despite all that power he is still a formidable foe, a shrewd businessman, a clever diplomat, a reliable ally, a loyal friend, a kind master, and a generous lover. Without a doubt, Jean-Claude is one of my favorite vampires of all time and he is unquestionably fuckable.